Christ is risen!
Thank you for including us on the mailing list for your new journal. We pray that all your efforts will be truly guided by the Holy Spirit, and that much fruit for the strengthening and upbuilding of Christ’s Holy Church will come from your labors.
I would like to respond specifically to Valerie Karras’ article entitled “The Significance of the Maleness of Jesus Christ?” I think all Orthodox would agree with Valerie that in the Incarnation of Christ, He takes all of human nature to Himself, thus saving both men and women since we all share absolutely equally this common human nature. Certainly to become human He had to become either male or female, since our human nature does not exist in any other form, and so on this particular point it does seem that He would have saved all of humanity just as much if He had become incarnate as a woman rather than as a man.
But just because Christ’s maleness “does not matter” on this particular point does not mean that His maleness “does not matter” at all, as Valerie seems to be claiming in her article. If His maleness really “does not matter” at all, then logically it would follow that the Gospel and our whole Orthodox Faith would remain essentially the same if He had indeed come to earth as a woman. But would that really be the case?
If Christ had become incarnate as a woman, it would seem that the Scriptures concerning Him (Her?) would have to be changed in quite a number of ways—which might indeed fundamentally alter the Gospel proclamation. For example, Isaiah 9:6 would surely have to read “For unto us a child us born, unto us a daughter is given; and the government shall be upon her shoulder; and her name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God (or Goddess?), The everlasting Mother, the Princess of Peace.” Revelation 19:16, it seems, would have to become “And She has on Her robe and on Her thigh a name written: Queen of Queens and Lady of Ladies,” since a woman could scarcely be called “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” But with the female Christ as “Queen of Queens,” what about the traditional Orthodox understanding of the Theotokos as being the “Queen of Heaven”? It would seem that a female Christ would give us a second “Queen of Heaven.”
What about Christ being the “second Adam”—as the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, and the hymns of our Church proclaim (cf. l Cor. 45–47; Romans 5:14)? It would seem that a female Christ would instead have to be called the “second Eve”—but this again is one of the traditional titles given to the Theotokos, so she again would be preempted. And Hebrews 1:3 refers to the Son as being “the express image of His person,” referring to the person of God the Father. It is difficult to see how a female Christ could be “the express image” of God the Father. And what about the traditional Orthodox understanding of the Church as “the bride of Christ” (cf. Eph. 5:23–32)? Surely the Church would have to be renamed “the bridegroom” of a female Christ; but then can we really imagine St. Cyprian changing his famous saying into “He who does not have the Church as his father cannot have God as his Father?”
All of this reflects, it seems to me, more than “mere” imagery. It would seem that a fundamental balance or harmony or affirmation of the two sexes would be lost if Christ were a woman. This would be seen quite vividly and strikingly, I think, if on the iconostasis in every Orthodox church two women were flanking the royal doors—the Theotokos and a female Christ. Where would the male element be? The Twelve Apostles also would probably have to be women, since it is difficult to imagine, in that day or in any day, twelve male Apostles for three years being led by and living in intimate association with a woman. Even John the Baptist would then be “the friend of the Bride” rather than ”the friend of the Bridegroom” (cf. John 3:28–29)—so he too, for propriety’s sake, probably would have to be a woman.
Because the basic imagery for the Church (and the human soul) is feminine (the Bride, etc.), it seems that the maleness of Christ is essential. Also very important is the basic symbolism for God the Father—which is inseparable from the declaration that Christ is His express image, etc. A mother goddess aptly symbolizes a pantheistic theology—the world as part of God’s body (and traditionally this has been the theology of those using mother goddess imagery in their religions); whereas God as Father aptly symbolizes a theology of creation ex nihilo by a God who is distinct from His creation and not to be confused with it.
I hope these observations will be helpful as we consider whether Christ’s maleness really does matter or not for the integrity and wholeness of the Gospel proclamation as we know it in the Tradition of the Orthodox Church.
Sincerely yours, in Christ,
Dr. Mary Ford
South Canaan, Pennsylvania
Ed. response: The prophetic quotations about Christ in the Old Testament are based on the Spirit-driven knowledge that the Divine Logos would become incarnate as a man. They do not define what the Logos is at an eternal, ontological level. Second, the Orthodox Church’s references to the Theotokos as “Queen of Heaven” certainly are not meant to make her role the equivalent of Christ’s as the King. Third, the image of Christ as the second Adam encompasses all humanity, and is Biblical in origin. The comparisons between Mary and Eve are later patristic extensions along a parallel line. In particular, there are grave anthropological and soteriological (regarding salvation) implications to Professor Ford’s statement that “it is difficult to see how a female Christ could be the ‘express image’ of God the Father.” Genesis 1:27 tells us that both men and women are created in the image of God, which is occasionally interpreted in terms of the Trinity but which most Church Fathers (e.g., Gregory the Theologian, Irenaeus, Maximus the Confessor, Nicholas Cabasilas, and John Chrysostom) understand as the image of Christ, who is Himself “the image of the invisible God [the Father]” (Col. 1:15)—in fact Irenaeus specifically calls us “the image of the Image.” This image—tarnished by humanity’s Fall—is restored in baptism, which makes us all children of God, where, as the Apostle Paul says, “[t]here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). The Fathers’ understanding of the nonsexual nature of calling God “Father” led them to use feminine imagery for Him, as well as for Christ and the Holy Spirit. (Articles on this subject will likely appear in a future issue).
However, Professor Ford is quite right regarding the symmetry of certain imagery and the special character of the analogy of the relationship between Christ and His Church as that of Bridegroom and Bride. Again, as with God the Father, this cannot be understood on a human or physical level, although the resonance there is what makes this imagery so uniquely appropriate.
The Quarterly has invited Professor Ford to submit an article on this issue for future publication.
Dear St. Nina Quarterly:
I really enjoyed your first issue. I am writing to request that you add a friend of mine to your subscription list. Since I have known her, she has told me she has “issues” with the way the Orthodox Church treats women, although she still considers herself Orthodox. When I press her about what these issues are, she is uncomfortable because she can’t name anything specifically, except for the exclusion of women from the priesthood. I learned from Ms. Karras’s article, “Women in the Eastern Church,” that many practices in the church can be attributed to clericalism. She is highly educated, and has been trained by the academy to “question” everything. I think with enough information she could get over this vague feeling of ill will that she has for the Church. I hope that putting the St. Nina Quarterly into her hands will help her put these issues to rest so that she can embrace the Church with her whole heart again.
Thanks for your wonderful journal!
Alexis D. Gutzman
Charlottesville , Virginia
I was so overwhelmed and overjoyed when I read my first issue of your journal. I thought I was the only person who felt as I did—felt a piece of myself, of my faith missing in the Orthodox Church. To know that there are others who feel the same—but are also doing something to find those missing pieces; the history that was never told to us as young women growing up in the Church....
Seattle , Washington
Dear Editorial Board:
Thank you for sharing the St. Nina Quarterly. This effort to reach Orthodox Christian women, to nurture their faith, and to provide an instrument that encourages and directs their talents is invaluable for all of us. I perceive your journal as constructively providing opportunities for both developing and demonstrating needed alternatives that channel creative energy. The personal achievements of your Editorial Board promise inspiring and well-rounded guidance for this edifying venture. I look forward to future issues.
John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D.
Hello! I was very excited to see the article in the Orthodox Observer about the St. Nina Quarterly…Of great interest to me is the discussion of using our gifts to serve the Lord; I am planning on, with God’s help, creating an icon using textiles. In my present search for information with many books, priests, and iconographers, I have gotten many points of view. Have you heard of any one else wishing to do the same? Even though many have said this is not traditional, I am still moved to take on this endeavor, for I believe this is my way of giving thanks for the talents that God has given, and my parents have nurtured, in me. My hope is to use painted leather for the faces, silk fabrics for the main sections, and silk and metal threads for embellishment. Anyone that is doing this sort of work and would like to share their knowledge with me, please contact me.
Editors’ Note: Please contact the Quarterly for address information.